January 13, 2013

Read Up: Author! Author!

Did you love elementary school "book club" sales flyers as much as I did?  I'd always bring those catalog circulars home, full of checkmarks of the books I wanted.  The books were cheap, the choices were abundant, and the calls to action were frequent!  The joy came back anew when I had a child of my own in elementary school--a child who also, of course, was the beneficiary of waves of those books.

But do you know what I never appreciated about those book club editions?  I mean, BESIDE the low-quality binding.  Those versions of the popular books almost never, ever had any author biographies at the end!

Shown here, are the author bios from (clockwise from the top) Soup Day, by
Melissa Iwai; Thank You Bear, by Greg Foley; and Truck, by Donald Crews.

Anyone who's been to many of the storytimes I host knows that I talk about the creators of the books I am sharing.  I will pick up a book, show the cover and read the title, followed by the name of the person or people who wrote & illustrated the work.  

For instance, using a book from my previous blog entry here, I might say:

"This book is called 'Thank You Bear,' and it was written and illustrated by Greg Foley.  He wrote the words AND drew the pictures!  Shall we open up the back & see if he's there?"

Flipping back, we find that Greg IS back there (shown in the collage at the top of this post)!  When we are lucky enough to find the author back there (doesn't happen nearly often enough, in my opinion), I'll enthusiastically say, "he IS back here!"  Then I'll share some details from the bio.  Sitting at home with one or two children, or in some classroom or library settings, reading the whole bio is good, but at other times just sharing a couple of pertinent details will be enough.  Being the silly person I am, I read Greg Foley's bio & say to the group, "he grew up in Austin, Texas--JUST LIKE US!"  This gives the children the opportunity to very forcefully tell me where they actually are from.  The detail that Thank You Bear is his first book gives us all the chance to appreciate together what a wonderful first book it really is.  

So, why do I bring so much attention to the people who make the books I share?  It is for the same reason that, when I am making storytelling appearances, I emphasize to my audiences that "we are ALL storytellers."  We all potentially have stories to tell, including our own unique takes on common cultural material.  Anyone who's visited a good preschool has seen the stories that come from children's minds, when enabled by an adult's secretarial skills in getting the words down on paper!  Discussing the author & illustrator makes the book more tangible, something with which the reader & listener can make a stronger connection.  The bios that connect the writer with her story (as in the piece for Melissa Iwai's "Soup Day," pictured above, which shows the author & her child in the kitchen making soup together) also help us connect ourselves better with the story, as well as connect ourselves with the author.  This empathy teaches us about different people, and how we can always find similarities despite our differences.  

Whether or not there is any creator information to be found, we often talk about the the illustrations--not what they portray, but the illustrations themselves. "Do you think you could draw this," I might ask.  To the children who say "no," I'll say, "you can if you practice enough!"  Remember, there are lessons to be found in any book, whether the authors put them in there intentionally or not!  

So talk about the authors of the books you read.  Celebrate them, emulate their work.  Have an "author's day" occasionally for your favorites, where you check out every book you can by that person & talk about the ones you like best--and why.  Help your child right a "new" book based on a favorite character--and send a copy to the author, if that's (you know) a possibility!  Take your child to author events when they happen at libraries & bookstores in your area.  

The more you interact with the book, the more you get out of it on multiple levels, so have fun!

Click here & READ UP!  I have many more great books to share with you!

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